Friday, June 30, 2017

2017 US Junior Team Qualifiers

Wanye Antone IV and Jordan Cooperrider, the USA Racquetball Champions in Boy's U18 and Girl's U18, respectively, will lead the USA Junior Team at the 2017 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Junior Championships in Minneapolis, November 4-11. The wins conclude Antone's and Cooperrider's respective junior years, so let's review those years.

Antone's development seems to have been slower than Coooperrider's, although there are more competitors in the boy's divisions than the girl's. Nonetheless, Antone was a semi-finalist in each of his last six years of juniors, and he was in the finals three times, but he didn't win a final until his U18 years. That is, Antone has shown a progression in his development that will hopefully see him continue to progress as a player.

Antone's results contrast from Mauro Rojas, who was his opponent in the U18 final this year. Rojas has been in six finals in the last six years, but only won once. He reached the U14 finals in 2012 and 2013, losing each to Jordan Barth. In 2014, Rojas beat Antone in the U16 final, and he was in both the U16 and U18 finals in 2015, when he was beaten by Barth the former and Sam Bredenbeck in the latter. Last year Rojas lost in the U18 semi-finals to Antone, and lost again to Antone in the U18 final this year.

Rojas seems like a power player, while Antone is scrappier, evidenced by several diving gets he made in the final. Also, Rojas had chances to win this year with four match points in the final, but Antone fought all of them off. Moreover, Antone won game two and three on his first game points; he didn't need second chances. In transitioning from a junior racquetball player to an adult racquetball athlete, you need to learn to win. Learning to win is a process, and Antone seems to be ahead of Rojas in that process.

Cooperrider has been in the finals the last four years, as well as being first in U14 in 2013, when it was a round robin, and third in U14 in 2012, when it was also a round robin. Prior to this year, Cooperrider had faced off with Erika Manilla each year, winning three of them and losing twice. Manilla was eligible for U18 this year, but a school commitment kept her from playing.

Does winning U18 twice mean success later? Maybe. Michelle De La Rosa (née Key) and Kelani Bailey both won U18 twice, as Cooperrider has now, and they have played with the USA National Team. Also, De La Rosa has been a top 10 player on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT). Bailey hasn't, but she is only a few years from her junior days (she won U18 in 2012 and 2013), and Bailey hasn't played many LPRT events. Indeed, De La Rosa, who won her U18 titles in 2006 and 2007, has only been a regular LPRT for the three seasons prior to this past one, and overall has only played 36 LPRT events over eight seasons. She didn't play at all in 2011-12 or 2012-13.

Thus, while Cooperrider winning two Girl's U18 titles is great, and should bode well for her future, she'll need to keep playing to fulfill the promise that those wins suggest. Not all players who have won Girl's U18 have kept playing (e.g., Aubrey O'brien and Devon Pimentelli).


There were 183 players at the 2017 USA Racquetball Junior Olympics in Stockton, which is down slightly from last year in Fridley, Minnesota, where 194 players participated. It's also down slightly from two years ago, when the tournament was also in Stockton and 194 players participated. But generally, the participation is steady over the last three years and up from 2014 and 2013, when there were 154 and 143 players.

Also the girls' participation is up slightly at 62 from 60 a year ago, and with the lower overall participation, girls are making up a slightly higher percentage of players (33.9% this year versus 30.9% last year). That's the highest percentage of girls in the Junior Olympics in the last 12 years.

While there's more girls participating, there doesn't seem to be a great depth of skill, as in the four quarterfinal U18 Gold division matches there were five 15-0 games, as well as a 15-0 game in the semi-finals with none of the games in semis going past 15-4.

Nonetheless, more girls playing is better overall for the game of racquetball in the USA.

2017 USA Racquetball Junior Team Qualifiers
Based on 2017 Junior Olympic Results in Stockton, California

Boy's U14
- Akul Ramayani (Poughkeepsie, NY) & Antonio Rojas (Stockton, CA)
Doubles - Akul Ramayani (Poughkeepsie, NY) & Antonio Rojas (Stockton, CA)

Boy's U16
- Cayden Akins (Keller, TX) & Sahil Thakur (Tracy, CA)
Doubles - Julian Singh (Pleasanton, CA) & Mitchell Turner (Salem, OR)

Boy's U18
- Wayne Antone IV (Eugene, OR) & Mauro Rojas (Stockton, CA)
Doubles - Lukas Le (Arlington, TX) & Mauro Rojas (Stockton, CA)

Girl's U14
- Annie Roberts (Gresham, OR) & Heather Mahoney (Penngrove, CA)
Doubles - Heather Mahoney (Penngrove, CA) & Julia Stein (Murrysville, PA)

Girl's U16
- Briana Jacquet (Port Arthur, TX) & Nikita Chauhan (San Ramon, CA)
Doubles - Brian Jacquet (Port Arthur, TX) & Graciana Wargo (Clearwater, FL)

Girl's U18
- Jordan Cooperrider (Palm Harbor, FL) & Hollie Scott (Lynden, WA)
Doubles - Megan Carver (Spokane, WA) & Hollie Scott (Bellingham, WA)

Follow the bouncing ball….

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